UI & UX — Combination and Confusion

Last year I started on a new team that was going through quite a few problems with a pretty major initiative. The meetings were the daily “fire extinguishing” types trying to get things back on track. I strolled in as the newcomer and wasn’t even expected to contribute much given my intended duties. As usual, I waded in anyway.


An Iterative Process

Throughout the meeting I was continually confused whenever they would throw out the term “The UI”. Now I was very familiar with what UI was but the way they were using it was confusing me. “Well that’s not how it shows up in the UI” and “the UI isn’t showing them that” made me wonder who the heck designed this thing. Then I figured it out, they were talking about a customer facing dashboard. What’s really funny? It wasn’t their UI that was suffering, it was their UX.

UX is not UI, or is it?

There are a plethora of articles on this topic so I am somewhat hesitant to wade into the fray. However, where you can find a great many articles on why UX design and UI design are not the same thing, you don’t find too many about why they get intrinsically linked everywhere.

First and foremost, it’s generally understood and accepted that UX is a much broader term referring to a broad range of duties and disciplines, it’s a philosophy as Alejandro Rodriguez points out:

UX puts the end-user’s needs at the center of the design and development process. It’s about understanding and prioritizing those needs before, during, and after any interaction a user has with a company.

However, when one considers this point it begs the question, isn’t there philosophy in the UI as well? I mean do UI designers just plow into the fray yelling “yiii-haa!” and saying they just want to make something pretty, whether the user can make sense of it or not be damned? I don’t think so, I think most UI design work is done researching the target audience, developing personas, checking out any user stories, sketching out possible solutions and then doing the design?


The UX Outline — isn’t that UI too?

But wait, all of those are parts of what’s considered the UX outline. So, in essence, the more you look at the situation you can start to see why people are so easily confused.

Land of Confusion

Rodriguez goes on to take a brilliant look at some job postings and thus uncovering the result of this confusion: job postings for UX and UI that really don’t make a lot of sense. In some cases you have a description that are straight up digital marketing and in others it’s a straight up front-end web developer. Clearly HR departments and hiring managers everywhere are struggling with what this is.

Drawing the Line

With all this confusion and the clear areas where UI and UX overlap and can be argued are linked with each other comes the question on where to draw the line? Craig Morrison makes a point in his blog post that a line definitely needs to be drawn and you shouldn’t hire one person to do both things for you:

Combining the roles of UX/UI Designer means taking focus away from two of the most vital parts of your product, leaving the overall experience your users will have at risk.

As designers we tend to gravitate to the visual so perhaps it’s best to let an infographic define it for us. Ana Harris does an outstanding job of just that.

Harris’ graphic succinctly breaks down the differences between the two classifications while pointing out the roles these people typically fill. On the UX side you find up and coming terms like information architect and program (or product) manager while on UI you have the traditional graphic and web designer titles along with the aforementioned front-end developer title.

So Now What?

I really like this Medium post from Mike Atherton where he sums it all up:

And that’s a problem. Because UX really isn’t UI. But by being limited, or even limiting ourselves, to such design execution, we’re making it so.

Atherton goes on to point out how it’s not like the constant evolution in roles has suddenly screeched to a halt, it continues on. Perhaps UX will evolve itself more into the product management role. This aspect of UX is what has drawn me to evolve my own career. UX designers really have the makings of being the visionaries, the ones who help define what a product or service is and where it goes. That’s exciting stuff! Putting users at the center of a product is a change from the days of doing whatever was easiest for developers.

All in all, it’s a volatile and exciting time to be in design whether it’s UX, UI or the confusing UX/UI, I’m glad I’m stepping into it. I hope to help set where the line goes for myself.

About The Author

W Guy Finley
Web Design, digital marketing, WordPress, UI/UX Design, content strategy, and general disruption for a cause. Tenacious and passionate about doing things right for my clients and users.